The latest 15 questions feature is with guitarist Jonny Scaramanga.
…I’m going on tour with ex-Europe guitarist Kee Marcello, joined by Alannah Myles and Don Airey (Deep Purple)…
Jonny has achieved a lot; a talented guitarist, a reputation as an accomplished teacher of the instrument and a notable journalist (having penned articles for Total Guitar and Guitar Techniques magazines).
With his latest EP, “Listen” waiting to download on to your MP3 player, Guitar Jar catches up with Jonny to quiz him on his musical influences, guitar kit and thoughts about the current music industry.
- Hi Jonny, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing?
I started off playing piano because I liked Tom and Jerry cartoons. Then I saw Terrorvision on Top of the Pops, and I noticed they didn’t have a keyboard player. I thought, “I’m never going to be a rock star unless I play guitar!” I got my first guitar for my next birthday, so I’ve been playing 17 years.
- In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian (long story). I was only allowed to listen to Christian rock, so it was all about Stryper at first! When I got out of that, I was obsessed with Eddie Van Halen and Joe Perry. I could play you Aerosmith’s live album A Little South of Sanity start to finish.
- Can you tell our readers of your current live rig setup?
My main amp is a Marshall2061X, the 20-watt handwired “mini plexi”. I also have a killer AC30 clone with power scaling. I turn down the wattage without turning down the volume, for extra power amp distortion.My favourite bit of gear is my Sequis Motherload Elemental. It’s the best attenuator, and doesn’t suck any tone.On tour, I always end up with rented 100 watt Marshalls, and this way I can get cranked up tone without annoying the singer or the soundman. My full pedal board goes: TC PolyTune -> Plum Crazy Squawk Treble Boost -> FoxRox Octron (octave) -> Big Knob TS808 clone -> TC Dark Matter distortion -> EHX Neo Clone chorus -> TC Flashback delay -> ZvexSuper Hard On boost.Guitar-wise, if I need a bit of everything, I’ll take a Strat.
With Kee Marcello, it’s Les Pauls all the way. I always put Bare Knuckle pickupsin my guitars. My favourites are the Mules for Les Pauls, and the Pat Pend Strat sets.For my own stuff, I have a WezV La Cabronita (Telecaster with a Filter’tron in it) and a ’54 Les Paul Black Beauty reissue with P90 pickups. I got it off eBay, and after I’d bought it, the seller called me and was like “I forgot to tell you! That’s Gary Moore’s old guitar!”.
- Your latest EP “Listen” took me by surprise embracing a “Power Pop” sound. How does this genre go down with an audience when playing live?
I call it power-drill pop, because it’s more rock than most power pop. Live it’s great, because power pop can appeal to everybody. It has happy melodies and vocal harmonies for people who like that, but also loud guitars and crashing drums for rock fans. Cheap Trick is a rock band that your girlfriend likes.
- Your lyrics are very honest; quite emotive at times. What inspires your lyrical content?
Everything on Listen is from real life. My next record, or the one after it, will explain the whole fundamentalist story I mentioned earlier. I think it’s a lie to say good lyrics have to come from real life, though. Novels and films are fiction, and they move people.People who say good lyrics have to be based on reality just have terrible imaginations.
- What’s more important to you; song structure or lyrical melody?
I’m fascinated by unusual chord progressions that don’t sound unusual. I love Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, and the Beatles, who have complicated chord progressions, but most people don’t notice. They sound like simple, accessible pop songs, yet not clichéd. I try to apply those ideas to rock.
- What do you recommend to players to help them progress if they’re “stuck in a rut”?
Not learn more scales! Best thing is to play with new musicians. If that’s not possible, it’s finding music that excites you again. I either go back to the stuff that inspired me in the first place, or I ask friends to suggest new bands until I find something.
…I’m fascinated by unusual chord progressions that don’t sound unusual…
- Guitar/Amp modelling: Love it or hate it?
I used to hate it, but I ended up using the Eleven Rack for everything on Listen. Once we’d demoed everything with it, Jo Webb (my producer) and I decided to keep those guitars. It would have cost a fortune to redo guitars at a studio, and it wouldn’t have sounded any better.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
My Les Paul Classic Plus. I bought it with money I inherited when my grandad died. It’s the best sounding guitar I own, and it’s been on the cover of Guitar Techniques.
- A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hover-board in hand, you’re ready climb in and hit 88mph. Will you go to the past or the future and why?
This is my kind of question! I love Back to the Future. The future, definitely. I want to know what things will be like in 100 years; I have an idea what they were like 100 years ago.
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
My all-time greatest gig nightmare was during a guitar battle with Martin Goulding at IGF. Martin kills me for chops, so I was outdoing him with my mighty rock poses.I crouched down in the Yngwie Malmsteen/ Ritchie Blackmore “one knee bent, one leg straight” shape, and my jeans just exploded open, straight down the middle.I had my eyes shut in a glorious moment of wide vibrato, so I didn’t even know until I heard laughter echoing round the venue.
One of the girls in the crew ran on stage with a roll of gaffer tape to rescue what was left of my dignity.
- What’s your opinion on music downloading? Are free/donation based downloads the way forward?
I don’t think new artists have any choice. Music is available free anyway, so if you don’t make yours available, people will listen to something else. Listen is available free. The most important thing to me is that people hear it.In the long-term, I think Spotify-type streaming services will take over and downloading will be irrelevant.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
I’d have Joey Kramer from Aerosmith. I love the swing he has, and for 80s rock drum sounds, nothing beats Pump.
- What’s the plan for you musically for the next 12 months?
I’m going on tour with ex-Europe guitarist Kee Marcello, joined by Alannah Myles and Don Airey (Deep Purple). We’re heading to Sweden at the end of March, and then we’ll be doing dates around Europe through to the summer, hopefully getting to the UK in June or July. After I’ve finished promoting Listen, I’m doing an acoustic EP, which will include John Wheatcroft on a gypsy jazz version of one of my songs.
- And finally, Lager or Cider?
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